The Undergraduate Council of Students has made financial aid a key priority this academic year, in part due to the results of its fall undergraduate poll and the campus dialogues spurred last spring by the formation of the student group Brown for Financial Aid.
As President Christina Paxson develops an agenda for her tenure, UCS has worked closely with the Committee on Financial Aid, co-sponsoring a forum last November. UCS plans to support the committee’s recommendations, multiple UCS members told The Herald.
The council’s dealings with the Committee on Financial Aid — one of the University’s six year-long strategic planning committees — have been “a very valuable two-way street,” said UCS President Anthony White ’13. The committee’s chair and co-chair, Director of Financial Aid Jim Tilton and Professor of Religious Studies Susan Harvey, have been very receptive to undergraduate input, White said.
At the forum last semester, Harvey said the committee plans to recommend that the University implement full need-blind admissions, The Herald reported at the time. UCS and the committee will meet again in late February to continue discussing potential financial aid reforms, White said.
A student priority
The results of UCS’s fall poll, which showed broad undergraduate support for expanding financial aid, helped spur UCS to make it a priority, council members said. The council sets its annual agenda based on the poll’s results, and “this year, the overwhelming consensus was that financial aid was at the top of the list for most people,” said UCS Secretary Stacy Bartlett ’14.
In the poll, 53 percent of about 1,600 respondents said the University should commit touniversal need-blind admissions, even if it means spending cuts elsewhere. About two-thirds of respondents said they would like their money to go toward financial aid when they are alums and donate to the University.
The fall poll results “helped solidify all this talk about whether financial aid was a major priority to pursue and gave us significant data to provide the administration about why it should be a significant, top priority,” White said.
Building the momentum
The formation of the advocacy group Brown for Financial Aid last spring further encouraged UCS to prioritize financial aid. BFA distributed a petition last year calling on Paxson to reform the University’s financial aid policies, which every member of UCS signed, said Alex Mechanick ’15, president of BFA. Mechanick is also the undergraduate representative on the Committee for Financial Aid.
“BFA acted sort of as a catalyst for getting the executive board and general body of UCS very enthusiastic about wanting to change financial aid,” said White, who cofounded BFA.
But though White was affiliated with BFA, he said he could not claim sole responsibility for the issue’s prominence in campus dialogue.
“I am one part of a larger process. The momentum was definitely working towards it already,” White said.
“This is a conversation that’s happening all around campus,” said UCS Treasurer Sam Gilman ’15. “I don’t think it matters who the president is for this issue. This issue is one that transcends an individual,” he added.
The last time UCS focused intensely on financial aid was in 2003, at the start of former president Ruth Simmons’ tenure. A few council members drafted a resolution calling for universal need-blind admissions, which would extend a need-blind policy to international, Resumed Undergraduate Education and transfer applicants to the University. But not all council members approved of the resolution, and it was tabled after a heated two-hour debate, The Herald reported at the time.
UCS focused again on financial aid in 2010-11, but with less intensity. “I think there was general dissatisfaction with the fact that our general admissions weren’t need-blind for internationals and transfers,” said Ben Farber ’12, who was UCS vice president that year. “But beyond that, I wouldn’t say there was a strong focus on financial aid,” he added.
Improving advising for financial aid was one of many goals on the council’s 2010-11 agenda, Farber said. The initiative involved pairing students on financial aid with one financial aid adviser who remained with them throughout their time at Brown, instead of a team of advisers who assisted everyone, Farber said.
In recent years, issues like housing, athletics and student activities have superseded financial aid as the council’s chief priorities.
UCS fixated on “including students in the housing conversation” in 2010-11, Farber said. The initiative involved facilitating conversations between students and housing administrators, who were going to make decisions about which dorms to renovate and whether to build new dorms, Farber said. Since then, University housing has undergone major renovations, the majority of which will be completed by this fall.
In 2011-12, UCS dedicated most of its attention to increasing the number of undergraduates on the University Resources Committee, White said. UCS also fought for the University to keep sports teams it was considering cutting — the men’s and women’s fencing teams, the men’s wrestling team and the women’s ski team, Gilman said.
Student activities funds have also remained a chief priority for UCS in the past several years, Gilman said. UCS battles each year to make sure the URC allocates enough funds for student activities and that these funds are used efficiently, Gilman said.
An election focus
All three presidential candidates named financial aid as their top priority in last year’s UCS election, a trend White said he expects will continue in the coming election. He added that he foresees candidates discussing how UCS should respond to the Committee on Financial Aid’s recommendations and whether that response should involve fundraising efforts.
“I think financial aid will be even bigger than it was last time,” Bartlett said. The candidates’ talk about financial aid last year was theoretical, but this time the candidates can focus on actual specifics, like the Committee on Financial Aid’s recommendations, Bartlett said.
“I think whoever runs will be asked about target-specific proposals, goals and programs that they think would be useful for financial aid. It will be a lot less broad,” Bartlett added. “Candidates won’t be able to get away with vague statements like ‘I believe in financial aid. I believe more people should get to go to Brown.’”